Full disclosure: I’ve known Peter Roberts long enough to number him among my closest friends. Even our wives are friends – as enormous a measure of camaraderie as can exist. So, will I be even remotely objective about the Peter Roberts Concentrique Grand Complication 5? Probably not. But then neither would any of you if you love innovation, chronographs, sublime workmanship, rarity or anything else that makes a wristwatch truly special.
For some decades, Roberts has been known to watch enthusiasts in southern England for his ability to salvage and restore rare and complicated watches. What made Roberts a legend, though, is the watch he produced to complete his studies – the horological equivalent of a Master’s thesis.
It started when Roberts became the first British student to attend the Watches Of Switzerland Technical And Educational Program (WOSTEP). Perhaps driven by his status as the lone Englishman at WOSTEP, Roberts – with youthful overconfidence – chose as his final project to produce a watch he’d seen in a text on chronographs.
Peter Roberts Concentrique – Original Project (1971-1972)
Titled The Main Types of Chronograph Explained By Their Dials and published by the Federation Horlogere (FH), the book contained drawings of every configuration, the final illustration showing five hands from the centre. His instructor told him that it was only theoretical, and, to his knowledge, no watch had ever been made with more than four hands from the centre.
Undeterred, he used the Valjoux 726 – one of the finest manual chronograph movements ever made – as its base. In addition to the full complement of chronograph functions, with 30-minute and 12-hour registers, he fitted two hands to the trio of hours, minutes and chronograph sweep seconds: one for date and a second to trace a 24-hour time period. It featured screw-down crowns on the winder and both pushers, and a mineral glass back – rare in 1972. It was housed in a case of Roberts’ making, with a bespoke dial and a bezel with two rows of numerals to accommodate the dates and the 24-hour scale.
In the interim, Roberts kept – and wore – his WOSTEP watch, dubbed the Concentrique and the target of envy for any watch enthusiast lucky enough to examine it. Friends and colleagues often implored Roberts to put it into production, but the problem was the use of an obsolete movement.
What has provided the watch with mythic status is the knowledge that the number of hands on Roberts’ chronograph has only been matched commercially by the Maurice Lacroix Cinq Aiguilles, launched at the turn of this century, and the rare and costly Ulysse Nardin astronomical watches. For many, it is a far more impressive and desirable achievement than many other complications of lofty repute.
Roberts’ career included the post of Official Watchmaker with Rolex England from 1972-1975, Head of Showroom Repairs at both Garrard Crown Jewellers and Watches of Switzerland in London, and 13 years as a lecturer at Hackney College, where he trained a new generation of watch-makers including current superstars Peter Speake-Marin, Stephen Forsey and Simon Michlmayr.
After stints as Head of Watchmaking for Dent and Bremont, Peter finally relented to the pressure to produce a commercial version of his five-handed watch. If Roberts was to produce the watch – the original will go to his son, James, also a watchmaker – it would have to respect that first effort.
During 2012, Peter enjoyed a chance meeting with an industry veteran with a vast stock of ‘new-old stock’ parts. He provided Roberts with a sufficient number of Valjoux movements to enable him to manufacture 40 examples, to mark the watch’s 40th Anniversary, plus four more in rose gold rather than stainless steel. Thus was born Peter Roberts Watches.
To the original design have been added moon phase, a more refined look and, as he states matter-of-factly, “45 years’ of watchmaking experience.” The new model is unmistakably the descendent of the WOSTEP original, but – unlike the original – watch enthusiasts can actually buy one. Price is £18,000 for the stainless steel version, while the rose gold version’s sells for £28,000.
In addition to disassembling and refinishing each movement, Peter has created further refinements. Its “Sablier” balance cock is a unique balance cock designed and made by Peter, inspired by the female form (Sablier is hourglass in English). This balance cock design was first used on Peter’s original Concentrique WOSTEP watch and is now hand-formed on the new Concentrique model.
Peter also developed a new bezel mechanism for the Concentrique – the “Zone Lock” – having designed a click-stop bezel for Bremont’s Martin Baker “MB” watches. This bezel is precisely made and runs on ceramic ball bearings which lock to the 24 hour zones. It is a tactile pleasure to use and can be set by feel alone. The bezel is made from a special beryllium bronze which gives a unique colour to the watch.
Roberts added to the design a beautiful leather strap with a period feel, an “Englishness” that recalls the fine shoes and saddles made by British craftsmen. It is only right, as Roberts is a truly British form of eccentric. He fascinated by all types of mechanical devices. He never seems able to break away entirely from a slightly professorial mode of behaviour; a simple question invariably inspires a discourse which walks the enquirer through the whole history of the subject. Despite his superior knowledge, he never exhibits a trace of arrogance nor of aloofness.
Somehow, he finds the time to indulge in non-watch passions: he keeps a 1976 Lancia Fulvia for his daily transport, listens only to all-valve hi-fi equipment, to LPs and reel-to-reel tape, and swears by a Leica M6 with 35mm film. The rest of the time? He spends making his marvellous Grand Complication chronographs, at long last in production.
More resources about Peter Roberts Concentrique on the Official Peter Roberts Website